Shearon Roberts, an LSU Masters Student, working for the Wall Street Journal conducted a series of interviews with interesting and innovative political bloggers. In November 2005 she talked to Ken Spain [Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas)]
How involved is Mr. Conaway in operating the blog, http://www.conawayblog.com/, making posts and reading comments?
We assign a staffer to maintain the blog on a daily basis, the Congressman is very active in his posts, however, all the posts do not come from the Congressman, some come from staffers. The Congressman usually blogs once or twice a week usually on an issue that is important to him, an issue that the staff may point out that has a relevance for that day or time, we would usually try and get the Congressman to blog on that issue…if he does not point out what he would like to blog about.
He will sign off at the bottom of his blog entry as Mike. The other staffers will [sign in as themselves] for instance if the Congressman is heading into a budget meeting that day, our legislative assistant will blog and say this is what the Congressman is doing today, this is his take on the issue and then she will sign off as so and so staffer/legislative assistant for budget issues for Congressman Mike Conaway.
How frequently is the blog updated?
How is the blog designed, is it a true blog--a strict daily diary for the politician, or a mix of website features and posts? What is the writing style or tone of the blog?
Well, it tends to be more conversational. Yes, he will share what he’s thinking. It is somewhat of a diary, but also he realizes that he is speaking to an audience. So he tries to share what he is thinking and conveys it in a way that people from all over the district and wherever else, people who are logging on can feel as if they are maintaining personal contact with the congressman.
Why did the politician or his staff begin the blog and for what reasons?
The blog…started approximately in November….There were a number of staffers in the office including myself who had liked the idea of the blogs and they seemed to be an emerging type of new media and we shared our thoughts with the congressman and he liked the idea. He’s always looking for a new way to communicate his message and he thought it was a new technological way of doing so.
To what degree is the blog filtered and what is the extent of the feedback in terms of comments?
[As to] the extent of our comments, it depends on the day and it depends on the issue. If we’re talking about the issue of immigration, then…we tend to get a lot more comments. Sometimes we get zero comments. It really depends. But at least we get one or two comments at least a day.
We filter the responses, not necessarily for content but to make sure they are appropriate in terms of language. We don’t want bad language. We want the comments to be constructive. They can feel free to disagree with the congressman however much the like, but we just want them to be constructive comments…
What have been some of the positive outcomes or advantages of the blog?
I would say there are a lot of positive results that come along with this. We receive emails and comments from college students who are away at school but their hometown congressman is Congressman Conaway and they say thank you very much because this is an opportunity for that person to be caught up on the issues that are going on in Washington. Some of the other outcome is that the congressman’s postings get picked up by kind of more mainstream higher traffic blogs where we get as many as 10,000 hits on our blog. We range in hits from as many as 250 to 10,000.
How large is the audience for the blog? Who is the main audience for your blog?
We gear the blog postings from the congressman toward constituents. However, the issues that he tends to blog on tend to be issues of national concern…gas prices, immigration or his recent trip to Iraq; we do share those with other outlets as well.
People say that blogs are one way for political leaders to talk directly to the people, bypassing the filter of big media. Do you see that at work in your blog?
It seems to be more in tune with Republican members of Congress, because at times it can appear to some that the mainstream media is not as necessarily kind to us, to the opposition. I think it is probably true to any member of Congress, looking for a way to get your message out in an unfiltered way, as you say, as opposed to hoping that the newspaper editor includes the quote that you want or chooses the aspect of your press release that you would like to see in the newspaper. With the blog you get to have a direct impact with the individual reading your site through no filtered means whatsoever.